05 December 2013

Drexel Law is Drexel Law again, follow-up

Of course, the most reasonable explanation for Drexel Law's ending its naming rights relationship this week isn't that Earle Mack has been spending his days hunched over a computer, looking at the school's statistics and becoming disillusioned with his namesake. It's far more likely that the school simply failed to continue cultivating the relationship with its donor. You can't just take the $30 million and run; you have to keep in touch with the benefactor. To be clear, I don't know that the school administration wasn't on the phone to Mack's secretary twice a week. But I do see that they don't have their own dedicated officer for institutional advancement. There's not even much outreach to alumni, from what I can see on the Events and Continuing Legal Education ("There are currently no scheduled Continuing Legal Education events") listings.

Here's something I notice looking at the make-up of the school's faculty and staff. Outside of administrative support, Drexel Law is run by ex-lawyers, law professors, and former court administrators. But what you don't see in the faculty and administration bios are individuals with a background in actual academic administration. Do law schools get tripped up with their own myth of the "fexible J.D."? Or has Drexel Law, at least, done so? You need professional academic administrators to run an academic institution.

You need institutional advancement professionals to maintain positive, long-term, fruitful relationships with past donors. It's way beyond having a little public ceremony to announce a gift. When there's a donor who gives $30 million to an organization, it needs to be a specific person's job to reach out to that person multiple times per year to check in, visit personally, chat them up over an expensive dinner, and explore the future of their contribution to the institution. A benefactor who is not cultivated will feel no reason to continue funding a gift, or to ever give again, or to suggest their past beneficiary to their rich friends.

It's not rocket science. It's Institutional Advancement 101, and it's based on what your mom was trying to teach you when she sat you down to write thank-you notes for your birthday presents.

But beyond the 101, this is an entire discipline. Practicing law for a few years doesn't prepare you for academic fundraising, even if you focused on tax law or served on a couple of non-profit boards. Never mind if you've been the ivory tower your entire career, or if you worked for the government. The organization has to hire actual professionals in the field of academic or nonprofit development.

Who knows what Drexel Law's development strategy is. Likely everything is channeled through the university's development office and they have little control over the big institutional advancement picture. But from where I'm sitting, it really looks as though someone at Drexel Law dropped the ball in this particular relationship, and that is a huge blunder.

No comments: